LED VS CFL Bulbs, Which Bulb is Ultimately Better?

March 08, 2017

LED VS CFL Bulbs, Which Bulb is Ultimately Better?

In our previous article, we’ve discussed in detail about the how LED works, and the advantages of LED over other lighting sources.

Today, we will dig deeper about the differences of LED over one major lighting source, the Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL). CFL was popularized in the 1980s and has become a major lighting choice since then. Today, both CFL and LED are the market leader for lighting choices all around the world, and many households still hesitate to replace the older CFL lamps with LED lightings.

Will replacing CFLs with LEDs be an absolute upgrade?  We will dig deeper to cover all the differences between the two and the advantages of each.

As mentioned, we have discussed an overview about the LEDs, thus you can refer to the article. We will, however, discuss a brief overview of the CFL to understand the differences between the two further.


Overview of Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL)


CFL lamps have two main components, an electronic ballast, and a vacuum tube. The vacuum tube is filled with gas containing of low-pressure mercury vapor combined with argon, xenon, and krypton. The pressure inside the vacuum tube is maintained at around 0.3% of atmospheric pressure.

The term ‘fluorescent ‘ of the CFL came from the fluorescence coating on the inside surface of the lamp, which is typically phosphor-based. The fluorescent works by ionizing the gas vapor, causing the electrons in the gas to emit ultraviolet photons.

The phosphor inside fluorescent coating then converts the UV light to a frequency visible to the human eye, illuminating the area around it.

The term 'compact' comes from its smaller design compared to the older fluorescent lamp. To achieve this, most CFL bulbs are folded to form a spiral.

The compactness allows CFLs to fit perfectly to an incandescent bulb's fitting, which allows the CFLs to replace a lot of incandescent bulbs since its introduction in the 1980s.

If you are more interested in the technicalities behind the fluorescent technology, check out the detailed guide from Edison Tech Center here.

The main difference between CFLs (and other vacuum-tube light sources), is the fact that LEDs utilize the newer solid-state technology, creating many fundamental differences such as:


1.Life Span


This is one of the main quality where LEDs truly shine. LEDs can have an average lifetime expectancy of around 50,000 hours. Even when you use a LED lighting for an average of 10 hours a day, it will last for more than 13 years before the need of a replacement arises.

The CFL lightings, on the other hand, only have an average life expectancy of 8,000 hours, roughly only one-sixth those of LEDs.


2.Initial Cost


LEDs, with the newer and more advanced technology ,is generally a more expensive investment than the CFL lights. Although the cost may vary, in average LEDs can cost five times higher than CFLs.

The true question, however, is whether other factors can justify the more expensive initial costs. Thus, we move on to the next factor: the long-term operating cost of the two bulbs.


3.Operating Cost


To calculate the operating costs of the two light sources with precision, we will calculate the average power used to emit a lumen of light.

With the assumption of both lamps operating at 60 Watts, in average, LEDs use  6 to 8 watts per lumen generated, while in comparison, CFLs use almost double of that amount of around 13-15 Watts per lumen.

Thus, in a year, the CFL will consume around 767 KWh/year, while the LED bulb will only consume 329 KWh/year. This number will translate to around $35/year for the LED, and $78/year with the current U.S. average electricity price.

Check out this article from Green Living Ideas regarding the true long-term cost of CFLs and LEDs.




LEDs can be easily dimmed or brightened, and the cost for dimmers and even more sophisticated control systems are cheaper than ever before. Newer LEDs even have the ability to change colors depending on your needs.

Newer LED 'smart bulbs' can even be controlled with smartphone apps, and can be automated with a smart scheduling system. Besides its obvious functionality advantage, controllability and smart scheduling can further increase LED's efficiency.

CFLs, on the other hand, are not dimmable, can't have multiple colors in one bulb, and generally have very limited controllability. Check out our previous article covering smart bulbs technology here.


5.Environmental Impact


CFL uses mercury as the core of its technology, which is a hazardous metal substance for both humans and the environment. Check out this article from Litetronics covering the detail of mercury in CFLs.LEDs, on the other hand, are extremely clean to the environment.

Our previous article also covered how fluorescent and incandescent lamps can be a distraction for studentsand workers with the gas movements inside the tube.


Other Pros and Cons


Here are other pros and cons you might consider:

  • CFLs cannot operate in harsh environmental temperatures, either too hot or too cold. LEDs can function perfectly at all temperatures.
  • Being of a vacuum tube technology, a CFL still needs a pre-heating time, and will need a few moments to reach its full brightness. A LED can reach its full brightness instantly.
  • CFLs, however, can illuminate an area more evenly than LEDs. This characteristic will be useful in certain applications.

Bottom Line


LED clearly have a superior technology to the CFL, albeit its more expensive initial cost. On the long run, the efficiency of LED, as well as other functionality advantages can justify its cost, and will be a better investment overall.

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